As an undergrad, John Shapiro ’74 dreamed of writing the great American novel. But two things kept him from doing so.
“Talent, and discipline,” Shapiro says. “So recognizing that eventually, I decided that if you can’t do, you can enable.”
In 2008, Shapiro and his wife, Shonni Silverberg, M.D.’76 made a $3.5M gift to fund a writing center at Wesleyan. And on Nov. 20, the Shapiro Creative Writing Center, located on the top floor of the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life, was dedicated with a ribbon cutting ceremony.
“It’s my feeling that by catalyzing this effort, and helping it come together and getting a center and getting great faculty together and writers and poets who can come to visit that, you become a magnet for wonderful students and they would go and write the great American novel that I wouldn’t write, so I can bask in the reflected glory,” Shapiro says.
The Shapiro Creative Writing Center provides a locus for students and faculty seriously engaged with writing. It houses offices for faculty, visiting writers and writing fellows including Elizabeth Willis, the Shapiro-Silverberg Associate Professor of Creative Writing.
“There’s been great creative writing at Wesleyan for a very long time,” says Wesleyan President Michael Roth. “We all can think back to our favorite examples of permanent faculty and distinguished visitors who have exemplified the spirit of cultural contributions that we love to associate with our alma mater. But we didn’t ever create a physical place, where we could celebrate writers, where they could find one another, and where we could have a focus to our creative energies.”
In addition to office space, the center includes a comfortable lounge with shelving for books of interest to writers, and a workroom for student literary publications. Receptions, readings, and other writing-connected events will take place in the shared gathering space at the top of the Allbritton Center.
The Ford Writing Fellow and Writing Workshop tutors will hold office hours in the center for students seeking assistance with their academic writing.
During the dedication, Krishna Winston, the Marcus L. Taft Professor of German Language and Literature, coordinator of the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship and dean of the Arts and Humanities, mentioned how the center provides a gathering space where faculty and visiting writers can read from their work, hold Q&A sessions and meet informally with students.
“John and Shonni have given us a lounge where inspiring writers can read, write and talk about writing with each others. They given us officers where visiting writers instructors can prepare for classes and meet with students. And they’ve given us a work room, where editors of literary magazines can put together new issues,” Winston says. “So writing at Wesleyan now has, in Virginia Woolf’s phrase, ‘a room of its own.'”
Photos of the dedication below: (Photos by Olivia Bartlett Drake)